Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Moving....the Blog!

Hey everyone!

I'm excited to announce that I'm finally moving the blog over to Wordpress. It only took me 5 years to get on the ball about that but hey, better late than never!

This new blog address should allow me to keep things better organized and grow a bit with my blogging. I've got most of my posts transferred over and the site is organized but I still have posts and pages to transfer so please don't worry about anything disappearing. Once the changeover is complete I'll be deleting this format/making it private. But knowing me it could take as much as a month or two to get the transfer completed so I didn't want to be blogging over there and leave people wondering where I'd gone over here.

I'd really like to highlight more crafty things like DIY projects, sewing projects, and also have a good bit more on homeschooling now that I feel like we're hitting our groove with home education. If there's anything you guys would like to see more of please let me know! I'm hoping to re-focus with this new address and so I'd love to know what others enjoy reading too.

I hope you'll join me over there at www.planningonit.com! And while you're at it please follow the blog and/or follow me on Pinterest. I'm a big Pinterest user and am hoping to link to blog posts more on Pinterest too so people don't miss them.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

How We Homeschool

So we have some updates, of course, because life just can't stay the same for two months in a row here. No, that would be crazy talk!

Long story short: Ana is being homeschooled again and things are going well. I like having all my kiddos at home.

(Peter told me lately "Mommy, you have to learn me to read!")

A dear friend asked me about homeschooling recently and I figured I'd answer here since it'd fill up a message box far too quickly! And if anyone else cares about my thoughts on homeschooling maybe they can glean something from this too :)

"I am seriously thinking of homeschooling Caleb. There are so many programs out there it is overwhelming. What do you use?"

I started looking into homeschooling when Tobias was about 6 months old, same as Caleb. I like to plan ahead and figured it couldn't hurt to figure out how it works. I think that time when you have a baby and are able to just research stuff without needing to implement it ASAP is really valuable. I suggest reading books like

(except also listen to Susan Wise Bauer's lectures while doing dishes or folding laundry because it will relieve you of any pressure to follow this book perfectly. Look at it as inspiration and a general plan, no need to make it the bible! I refer to this book over and over again, it's great!)


(this is great inspiration that homeschooling doesn't need to be so hard. Good for letting go of the standard school-model-mindset and just a fun read!)

I also read a lot of blogs. Confessions of a Homeschooler,  1+1+1=1, Amongst Lovely Things, and Simple Homeschool are all good inspiration and glimpses into the lives of a variety of homeschoolers.

As for programs, I personally don't like to use boxed curriculums (curriculums that give you everything for every subject all together in a nice neat package) for two reasons.

1) they are generally more expensive

2) I don't think any one company or person can produce the best math program AND the best literature program

I'm picky and I want what is the best of every subject for each child. And the best is sometimes different for different children.

So I hodge lodge everything together. But I do follow an overall plan. We are classical homeschoolers. That basically means we try to educate our kids in a way that mimics older styles of  education, not modern day schools. I mostly want my kids to know true, good, and beautiful things.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.  ~ Philippians 4:8

So yeah, we study that stuff!

In practical everyday terms this means we study literature, real actual books and never use a textbook full of partial stories. And we study from lists found at Ambleside Online and Memoria Press. Currently we're using Memoria Press' First Grade Read-Aloud Program for literature. They are picture books but good picture books and the analysis questions for each one are high-level. I recommend Memoria Press only for advanced students (like Tobias) or going back levels for other students (like Ana). Do not feel like you are slacking if your child cannot handle the 'correct' level of Memoria Press curriculum! That's the beauty of homeschooling: levels and grades don't have to mean anything!

For Math, I like mastery approaches. There are lots of good ones out there! I avoid certain curriculums because the authors are anti-Catholic so I won't mention them here. But I really like Math U See for any student. This is what Ana will be using this year. The man who made this curriculum is a veteran math teacher and does these videos to teach the mom/dad how to teach each topic. Tobias uses and loves Singapore Math. Singapore Math is in my opinion the best math program out there, but it is rigorous and not as open-and-go once you get to the older grades. Tobias is working in the 2nd grade book and LOVES math. His love of math was enough for me to stick with this curriculum, I hold it 100% responsible because Kyle and I are not math-people necessarily.

For Social Studies and Science I like unit studies and notebooking. Lapbooking is cool too but it's too much craftiness and creativity for me. I need to keep things simple. Notebooking has revolutionized homeschool for Ana. Social Studies and Science were the areas she was fighting me in back in August but now I'm using notebooking for them and she loves it because she's a visual learner. I use some lap booking printables for our notebooking. We're currently doing a Biomes unit study and a Colonial America unit study.

(No literature textbooks here, just actual literature)

For Language Arts I am super-picky because I have a degree in 6-12 English Education. We use Voyages in English, which is a wonderful, solid grammar program. I suggest skipping all the writing activities because in my opinion children under age 8 really shouldn't do much real writing actually, just handwriting starting at age 5 and by 1st grade fill in the blanks where they have to write 1-2 words or as much as one sentence are okay to try. For Spelling I looked at every program and for the typical learner I like Macmillan/McGraw's Treasures: Spelling Practice Book. If your child is a struggling reader or dyslexic I suggest instead doing All About Spelling until they reach a fourth grade reading level. It's colorful, fun, and teaches spelling rules you didn't even know were rules to take the mystery out of spelling :)

(our Godson Owen, just before his baptism!)

Religion curriculums will vary based on your family's beliefs. We have used the Faith and Life curriculum from Catholic Heritage Curricula. I like it, it's very kid-friendly yet has lots of information! This year I'm including Religion class in our notebooking exploits. I want the kids to grow into having a scripture and prayer journal as they get older where they jot down notes as they read their bibles and where they keep inspiring Saint stories and prayer intentions for themselves and others.

(serious preschool work, stacking pegs)

For 3-5 year olds I only focus on reading and handwriting and counting and playing with patterns. We use The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading for the boys. It's cheap, effective, and has short lessons. Perfect for a wiggly preschooler who wants to learn to read :) Plus it is scripted out so ANY parent can teach using it. Tobias learned to read at 2.5 (when he asked me) with this book. Peter is about to start it at 4 years old. If your child is 6 years old and OPGTR hasn't gotten them reading I highly recommend All About Reading. If All About Reading is confusing and moves too fast for your child they are likely highly dyslexic so after having a vision and hearing exam to rule out those problems I suggest using Barton Reading and Spelling. Ana uses Barton and it is magical. She was a non-reader 1 year ago and now reads at a solid 2nd grade level.

My kids also draw and paint each week and Tobias plays guitar. Ana does swim team, Tobias does soccer, and Peter and Tahlia do gymnastics. We alternate the sports so it's not too overwhelming. It works out well that soccer ends just as swimming begins and gymnastics is just one session a year.

We've really enjoyed the whole homeschooling lifestyle. I like being able to come and go as we please, take field trips, learn things together, and for the kids to learn as fast or slow as they need to. There are definite advantages.

Monday, November 10, 2014

To Label or Not to Label: Neuropsych Testing

I'm linking up today with the iHomeschool Network to talk about labeling and identifying special needs in our children.

So, I'm sitting here today in hour 2 of Ana's neuropsychological testing.

We've been on the waiting list for this for 10 months for this testing.

10 months!

And we drove an hour to get here.

And there will be 3-4 sessions total before we're through.

It feels like a lot. I'm sure many people wonder why we would even bother. We love our daughter no matter what; of course a diagnosis or label won't affect how we feel about her, and we're caring for her already. So why go through all this testing knowing (hoping?) to come out with a label.

Each family will approach this differently, but here's how I think about it: a label (whether cloth on a shirt or a name for a diagnosis of a kid) is simply there to give information. Nowhere in the definition does it say that it is intended to give ALL the information.

You don't go through clothing stores for a shirt only looking at labels and ignoring the obvious color and shape of the whole shirt? No, you look at the shirt, note the color, pick it up, feel it, and then if you need more information, like the size, you check the label. It's simply more information, and often very necessary information. Have you ever grabbed a shirt based on the label on the hanger and got it home only to find that it didn't fit because the shirt label said the correct size and the size on the hanger was wrong? How frustrating to try to pull a shirt over your head that just does not fit!  It's the wrong size. Or have you ever tried to guess the size of a dress at a thrift store where the label had been cut off? Let me tell you, it's really difficult!

How much more important is it to have the correct label on a child? If you are looking at your child, living with your child, loving them, and yet realize that they are somehow not learning anything despite trying their best then maybe you just need to look at the label.

Because see, whether we name it or not the dyslexia, ADHD, autism, etc or whatever the underlying problem might be is there. A diagnosis isn't there to make up a problem, it's there to put a name to the problem we already see. Yes misdiagnoses happen, but that is simple human error. Everyone can make mistakes, doctors and parents just do the best they can. We have to be careful here because the wrong label can be just as damaging as a missing label.

My daughter, Ana, is deaf. Would it be helpful if I refused to say that she is deaf to people? Deaf means she cannot hear...and it's true, she can't! She wasn't identified as deaf until age 8, and countless doctors and educators have bemoaned that fact with us because a critical period of language development was lost. The audiologist didn't make her deaf...he just told her birth mom the name for what she already saw....struggles in school, poor speech, distractibility, and inattention. Now instead of a bunch of unconnected symptoms she had a diagnosis, and a treatment....hearing aids! All the interventions in the world couldn't have done what that one intervention did for Ana. She could now hear at 85% instead of 50%.

One intervention that fits can do what ten interventions that don't fit could not. And there's a different intervention that fits best for every diagnosis. Each label can point us to the intervention that is fits our unique child.

So we're not afraid of our daughter being given a label for her learning struggles. A label will not lessen or worsen her learning difficulties. We know she struggles to learn already. She knows it, how could she not? But what we're hoping to get is a name, a name for what her specific learning difficulties are. Because with a name for what she is experiencing we can identify the best interventions for her. And we can drop the ones that might seem good but just aren't going to make a big enough difference for her.

I could just test-drive every curriculum and every specialist out there until I find the one that fits, sure. And it'd probably work eventually. But at what cost? How long would it take? 1 year, 2 years, 10 years? My daughter is 12, she doesn't have 10 years while I make her try on every promising curriculum and program. For us, because her learning disabilities are severe, I'd rather not risk trying on wrong interventions for years, I want to see the label. Because sometimes a label can mean the difference between an education that fits and one that does not.

If you have a child with mild learning disabilities or mild behavior problems then I can understand why you might not seek a label. You might resist a label, because labels can come with risks. Risks of being limited, mostly, in what our children are assumed to be capable of achieving. Or judged. And nobody wants to be judged.

I feel the exact same way! Ana has very mild behavior problems, just simple hyperactivity and such. It's challenging but not so much that I would ever seek a label for that alone. For me, with mild issues I'd rather treat the symptoms and know that she'll probably grow out of it just fine.

And even with a potentially severe diagnosis, if you already know what's going on and know that the interventions you have in place are already working well then you should not feel like you NEED a label to properly homeschool your child who struggles with learning. Because you absolutely don't.

But with some severe learning disabilities or behavior problems perhaps a label is worth the risk? Especially if as a parent you feel helpless to help your child learn essential skills he or she will need later on in life. Perhaps in that case the risk of trying on the wrong intervention over and over is worse than the risk of being limited or judged.

We'll see, we're now into hour 3 of testing and I'm hoping Ana will be done soon. She was giggling and relaxed when she came out for a snack break a half hour ago, so my worries about her being stressed by the testing have been relieved a bit. In a few weeks we'll have another session with the neuropsychologist and hear his observations. It'll be interesting, I'm curious to get to know more about our lovely, vibrant daughter's perplexing brain :)

What about you? Have any of you done neuropsychological testing or other testing? Was it helpful, hurtful, or just another brick wall? We're going to need to discuss the neuropsychologists' comments with Ana, probably at a very basic level, and I'm a bit nervous about that. How do you talk with your kids with extra needs about their own labels? Are you open about it so they understand their strengths and limitations more clearly or do you tuck away that knowledge for yourself and try to keep it from them so they don't feel boxed in by their diagnoses?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween 2014 and an Unemployment Update

Because our town is kinda crazy, trick-or-treat was last night and so I have Halloween pictures...on Halloween! I'm bad at real-time blogging so I think having holidays before the actual holiday totally rocks for my blogging schedule. Gives me time to take pics, sort through, and post here. Yay! 

We had a family discussion over dinner a month ago and settled on being space-themed this year. So Ana is a star, Tobias an astronaut, Peter a rocket, and Tahlia is an alien. Ana declined individual pictures because she's a tween and of course too cool for that. I only wrangled her into the group pic by letting her hold the toddler. She'll do anything for Tahlia :)

Peter's costume is borrowed from friends, isn't it clever? He loved it, he would crouch down and blast off whenever Tobias told him to. 

Tahlia is addicted to apples now, just like Tobias. We seriously need to plant an apple tree in the yard because these two eat 1-2 apples EACH every single day! Except Tahlia calls them "bapples" which is so adorable we don't correct her. She was very excited about the chocolate at Halloween but disappointed that no houses had bapples to give her. I had to explain there were no bapples in trick-or-treating. 

Tobias spent all day yesterday running around the yard in his astronaut costume. He looked very homeschooled. 

Kaiden is our resident black cat so he gets in on the Halloween picture action too! Plus he was there so yeah. I love the little white spot under his nose, we almost named him booger because of that spot. 

Our chicken pumpkin! Kyle did this, isn't he talented?!

Our mums are very sad, I apologize for this awful picture but it's real life here. We placed them on the porch and then forgot to water them enough. Normally they are far enough out that they get rained on, but silly us changed things and paid the price in dead mums. 

All the kids chose their own pumpkin designs. Ana carved hers all by herself! Tobias really wanted a scary mouth and star eyes. I asked Tahlia what she wanted, not expecting her to answer me since she's not quite 2 and barely talks but she did! She said "kitty" and so that's what we did. She seemed pleased with the results.

A fun pumpkin carving pic from Wednesday. Sorry for the blurriness, these two do not stand still for anything!

So yep, that was Halloween in the Hayes household!

And an update on the unemployment situation: Kyle has an interview next week with a job at his sister's company in Philadelphia. It doesn't pay very well but it pays better than his current part-time job as an adjunct professor here and would be a good foot in the door to a career in the non-profit sector. Plus it'd be great to live near a major city again. There are big pro/con lists going on here so we're praying for wisdom and discernment a lot! If he gets the job we might actually move to New Jersey since it's close, has slightly cheaper houses, and has better (read: nonexistent) homeschooling requirements.

Anyone live in the Philadelphia or New Jersey area and want to let me know what it's like from a raising kids and homeschooling perspective?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Adoption Finalization!

 We did it! We not only got certified as foster parents, found a child, brought that child home to be our foster daughter, but we have finally adopted her! I think that's why they call it "Finalization" .... because everybody involved is thinking "finally!" :)

Meet Ana Marie Hayes, our new daughter!

She's kind and caring, nurturing and extroverted, artistic and strong. Basically, like all new children are to their parents, she's practically perfect in every way. 

We finalized her adoption on October 6th, 2014 in the courthouse near Kyle's old church. Our judge was even a member of his former congregation so that was nice! She loves doing adoptions (here's a secret: all judges love adoption hearings) and was so happy to be involved. Our social workers were there too, which was such a blessing because they've really been there with us and Ana every step of the way for the past year. 

Providentially, we scheduled our fall family photo shoot the day before the adoption so we had all these lovely pictures to share with people that day on Facebook. It seriously was providential that it happened that way, we didn't know about the court hearing until less than 2 weeks before and we'd scheduled the photo session before that.

Everyone was excited. The boys could hardly contain themselves....though that could also be because they are 6 and 3 year old boys. But really, they were as involved in this as we were. Just as they'd be involved in praying and preparing for and meeting a new baby born to our family they were involved in the adoption, probably even more so because it all feels so....planned. Ya know? I mean, pregnancies are a private matter, something really only a husband and wife can decide and they are often up to the whims of nature and circumstance. But adoptions have to really be pursued and talked about ahead of time. At least that was our experience.

While we were waiting for Ana for 9 months (funny how that works) between being licensed as foster parents and being matched with her, I suggested to Tobias that we pray for the child we wanted to adopt, whoever he or she was. He told me that he was going to pray for a big sister who laughed a lot and liked to play games. Well, he got it for sure! 

Peter is our strong silent type (except when he's being rowdy with his brother). He was shy about Ana acting like a sister at first but also had that quiet excited grin on his face that he only gets when he's REALLY excited. He warmed up even more later and even lets her kiss his boo boos sometimes, a privilege usually reserved for me. 

When Ana moved in I kind of thought Peter and Tahlia might bond more and that Ana and Tobias would clique up. But it turned out so completely different! Ana immediately took to Tahlia (what better salve for an abandoned tween's heart than a cheerful baby to love on?). Tahlia was 9 months old when Ana moved in and so she won't ever remember not having a big sister. I think that's nice. While the rest of us can remember this special transition for Ana, Tahlia can give her the unique gift of permanence, of having always known she's there. 

Honestly life is pretty much the same now as it was before the adoption was finalized. But there is a slight shift, a sigh of relief knowing she's ours and we're hers. A knowledge that she has tested us and found us constant, if not perfect. Caring, if not always patient. Parents, if not by birth. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sprucing Up the Boys Bedroom: Sometimes 6 Year Olds Make Good Interior Designers

Some months ago Tobias got sent to his room over something little he did, then as he is prone to, he threw a tantrum over getting in trouble. While in his room he disassembled his bed and then proceeded to pick some paint off the wall. Ugh! He used to do this as a toddler when he was bored but hadn't done it in 3 years so I was really frustrated. He seemed genuinely remorseful afterwards and we worked through it but I left it there for awhile so he could see the consequences. 

Except then Peter took advantage of the beginnings of a hole in the paint and widened it....a lot. 

So then we had a hand-sized swath of paint chipped off and in need of sanding and repainting. Luckily unemployment is a good time to tackle those inexpensive-but-time-consuming projects like painting. Unluckily we had no extra blue paint and didn't know the correct color. to match it. Luckily it was on the wall at the head of their beds, a perfect spot for an accent wall!

*I'll apologize in advance for the spotty picture quality. I'm still working on using the iPhone's camera well and I had natural lighting but still certain parts came out blurry*

Their room had been bothering me for a bit, it just seemed like it was boring and too-big for two busy little boys. Especially when compared to the girls' cute and purposely-designed rooms. Not that it *has* to be something fancy but I like to have fun with the kids' rooms because I'm sure as heck not painting a life-size tree on the wall and ceiling of my kitchen  ;)

Last week we took a trip to Home Depot to browse paint samples and came home with several. We were thinking of doing the wall either all gray, gray with stripes, or stenciled with large gray stars on the blue. Kyle was concerned about getting the stars even and I didn't want them randomly put up so we needed an alternative, hence the stripes idea. We also considered a glittery gray wall to bring in a "star" element since the room is space-themed. 

Tobias is six now so I asked him his opinion and he looked at all the paint chips and said "I want this one and this one in stripes", pointing to the one bright orange paint chip. I laughed and directed him to other things. Kyle said "no way."

As you can tell, we were both wrong. Tobias remained adamant about the orange and I started to think it might not look bad and really, it's just one wall. It's the boys' bedroom. Who cares? If it looked awful worst case scenario we'd paint over the one wall again.

So orange it was! And then came the Great Stripe Wars of 2014! We were envisioning large, modern stripes, maybe with a cool pattern to them. Tobias wanted thin pinstripes, all the same size. We only had so much paint so we compromised a bit and gave him stripes the size he wanted and all the dark stripes are the same size but the light orange stripes are a bit different. We drew no less than 6 samples on a piece of paper before coming to an agreement. Who knew six year olds could be so opinionated about paint!?

Kyle painted it and shockingly it looks awesome! I kinda love it. So yes, sometimes 6 year olds make good interior designers.

We've removed the dresser mirror because it kinda gets in the way of the stripes and 2 little boys just don't use a mirror often enough to need it. We're thinking of putting 2 small face-out bookshelves above the dresser on either side of the fish tank for the boys to keep their bedtime reading selections. They are both book dragons, hoarding piles of books in their beds and sleeping sprawled across them every night which is awfully cute but seems dangerous for the books.



P.S. - Our adoption was finalized on Monday and I'll have updates and pics very soon! I'm just waiting on our pictures to get back from our photographer and then I can go photo-crazy.

Monday, September 29, 2014

We have an adoption date!

It's been a long haul but we're finally here. We got an official adoption date for our foster daughter Ana.

Later I'll post all sorts of stats and timeline and fun information and pictures!!! Real pictures of my beautiful oldest girl!  But for now all I'll say is that we will legally and forever and ever be the parents of Ana on October 6th, 2014. *God-willing of course!*

I'd love to ask for your prayers for Ana (this is a good but nerve-wracking time for her), her older sister who has yet to be adopted, her younger brother that his adoption with his aunt should be finalized soon, her baby sister that she continue to grow and thrive in her loving adoptive home, and most importantly Ana's birth parents. Her birthmother is in need of lots of prayers, I recently became aware of yet more legal action regarding her. Join me in praying she has a conversion of heart and comes to take care of herself and those around her. May she set an example of grace and redemption for her daughters someday, and if not may they have the eyes to see the grace that has already been worked in spite of their birthmother's choices.

And please pray for us, that we can be the parents Ana needs, that we have the strength and commitment to maintain all her sibling relationships across distances both geographical and cultural, and that we can love her for the beautiful, messy, artistic, nurturing, energetic, moody, athletic, and sweet girl that she is.